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Men's Basketball: After big comeback, Lobos travel to Air Force Saturday

Guard Elijah Brown said a single game, either a win or a loss, won’t define New Mexico.

Don’t get him wrong. Brown called Wednesday night’s come-from-behind victory a “feel-good win.” The Lobos were in high spirits after they surged back from 15 points down in the final six minutes against a tough Boise State squad, and Brown said he hopes it shows the team has taken its game to the next level.

At the end of the day, however, it is simply one game. The big takeaways, Brown said, will be to uncover the areas where the team can improve in its final five regular-season games, including the next one this Saturday at Air Force.

“We realize what we're capable of, but we've got to go back to the drawing board and see where we can get better,” Brown said. “It's a great feel-good win. We came back from 15, six minutes left, but why were we down 15 in the first place?”

That’s been a consistent theme throughout this men’s basketball team nearly every time either head coach Craig Neal or his players step up to the microphone: where can the Lobos get better?

Neal said his young team has grown up and gotten better as the season progressed. Until Wednesday night, Neal said the Lobos hadn’t demonstrated the perseverance needed to overcome a late deficit against a worthy opponent like a Boise State.

“They had that ‘never die’ attitude that we've always had since we've been here,” he said. “To be honest with you guys, we've never shown that. We've never shown that fight that we're going to persevere, we're going to go through adversity. We haven't done that, and that was the first time.”

It also puts UNM (16-10, 9-4 MW) back in the chase for the regular season title, Neal said, although it will be an uphill climb. UNM kept pace with San Diego State and, after dropping Boise State dropped to fifth, sit three games behind the Aztecs. They carry a full game lead over Fresno State and Nevada, and both squads remain on UNM’s schedule

Of the five opponents left, Air Force (13-14, 4-10 MW) has the worst record but won three of its last five games against Wyoming, Boise State and – most recently – UNLV. All three wins of late came at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the Falcons are 11-4 on the season.

In that win this week over the Runnin’ Rebels, the Falcons put four players in double-figure scoring: guard Jacob Van with 21, guard Zach Kocur with 19, guard C.J. Siples with 17, and center Frank Toohey with 14.

Siples replaced Trevor Lyons, who suffered a hand injury earlier this month. The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs reported on Feb. 10 that Lyons’ hand injury needed surgery, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. The week Siples stepped into the starting lineup he received Mountain West Player of the Week award.

Last time the two teams met UNM grabbed a convincing 85-55 victory at WisePies Arena.

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“They're a very smart team. We have to be extremely disciplined, especially on the defensive end,” Brown said. “But, once again, we feel like we have an advantage. It's like we do at any other game.”

J.R. Oppenheim is the assistant sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s basketball and women’s soccer. Contact him at sports@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @JROppenheim.

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